Judge Temporarily Limits Force Federal Officers Can Use Against Journalists in Portland

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 24, 2020Updated: July 24, 2020

A federal judge on Thursday temporarily barred U.S. agents from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at the ongoing protests and riots in Portland, Oregon.

U.S. Judge Michael Simon issued a 14-day-order late Thursday amid the city’s seventh consecutive week of clashes and street violence between federal officers and rioters. It came a day after Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed after rioters set fires near a federal courthouse in the city.

Oregon’s largest city has been rocked by waves of unrest with rioters targeting federal properties, including the federal courthouse, amid ongoing protests since the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

Large crowds gathered near the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse on Thursday night, chanting and holding slogans.

Epoch Times Photo
A waste receptacle was moved into the intersection of SW 3rd and Main and its contents set on fire as Portland protesters gathered downtown on July 10, 2020. (Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP)
Epoch Times Photo
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler wades through the large crowd, where his stated goal was to conduct a “listening session,” during a night of protest in Portland on July 22, 2020. (Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian via AP)

“The free press is the guardian of the public interest, and the judiciary is the guardian of the press,” Simon said during a hearing earlier on Thursday, quoting case law from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The federal judge had previously ruled that journalists and legal observers are exempt from police orders requiring protesters to disperse once an unlawful assembly has been declared. Federal lawyers intervened, saying journalists should have to leave when ordered.

It comes as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, among several others, in response to law enforcement actions during the unrest. The non-profit organization’s attorney, Matthew Borden, submitted statements from journalists, photojournalists, and legal observers who say they were injured by munitions fired by federal officers outside the federal courthouse in recent weeks.

“These are not accidents. These are not inadvertent shots,” Borden said. “These are acts of intimidation by a tyrant and they have no place in the city of Portland and they have no place in this country.‘’

Epoch Times Photo
A protester extinguishes a fire set by fellow protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on July 22, 2020, in Portland, Ore. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

Responding to the ruling, Jann Carson, ACLU of Oregon’s interim executive director, said the order marked a “victory” for the rule of law.

Simon said objections by law enforcement were outweighed by First Amendment concerns.

“None of the government’s proffered interests outweigh the public’s interest in accurate and timely information about how law enforcement is treating protesters,” Simon wrote in his ruling.

Simon said journalists and legal observers must wear clear identification. If federal officers or supervisors intentionally disregard his 14-day order, they may be held liable, he said.

The judge ordered Thursday that his order be distributed to Attorney General William Barr, the acting Homeland Security secretary, and all employees, officers, and federal agents currently deployed in Portland, within 24 hours.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.